Wild & Scenic Film Festival cooks up a food theme (The Union)


December 24, 2009

There is no farmer film more impressive than the story of the Dervaes family. Needing good farmer stories is basic, almost like needing food.

The film “Homegrown” tells the story of a farm scrunched around a 1500-square-foot home less than a mile from downtown Pasadena. It butts next to the intersection of Interstates 210 and 134. They grow about 6000 pounds of food in a year on one tenth of an acre. There’s also a goat and some chickens.

The popular term is low carbon footprint, and the Dervaes family have been intensely active in this regard for 20 years. Their commitment, however, seems to be more fundamentally fueled by a dedication to self-sufficiency. Jules Dervaes and his children, Justin, Anais, Jordanne, live and work at a modest yet ambitious ideal. Their shared devotion includes the evolving direction of papa Dervaes and his grown children.

Their bounty includes being satisfied with fresh produce that’s in season and generating satisfaction from the kitchen labors that follow their farming labors. It includes struggling for money when the cost of watering their compact crop rises significantly and restaurants buy less from them in a struggling economy.

Just the name of the film, “Homegrown,” and the name of their Web site, www.pathtofreedom.com, tells you much about the Dervaes family. They are inspirational. Most people will not walk the talk as thoroughly as they do, but they are an exemplary family.

The pastoral way the film “Farm for the Future” ponders the daunting problems of our times is refreshing. Rebecca Hosking had left the family farm. When she returned, she was concerned. How could she make farming work?

Hosking strolls her home ground. She visits farmers and other local experts. She chats about solutions that embody the simplicity, charm, serenity, and other characteristics generally attributed to rural areas. Those words define pastoral.

Hosking doesn’t harp on the unsustainable exploitations and ill effects in our modern world, but she reflects a post-modern quandary. Food is drenched in oil dependence. Oil runs the farm equipment. Crops run on herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers – all manufactured with oil and from oil. Oil transports foodstocks to factories and to distant market shelves.

There’s no doubt. The costs of oil will rise. There’s no doubt. Oil will become increasingly scarce.

Hosking chats with farmers who are intimately engaged with low-tech, old-style (pastoral) implementations. Like pastures with multiple species of grass that make grazing land thicker and more hardy. Like soil that isn’t plowed and monocultured literally to death. Like diverse and layered woodlands and gardens teeming with cycles of naturally regenerative, food-bearing life.

Curiously, the biggest problem with the farms for the future will not be the scarcity of oil. That will simply be a fact. The biggest problem may be a scarcity of farmers. In Hosking’s film, we are at least introduced to some thinking, practicing, future-minded role models.

About your food, you think your awareness has been raised enough, don’t you? Life is tough enough, and what can you do about it anyway?

The film “Food, Inc.” plays the democracy card more than once. “Vote to change this system three times a day.” What system? The system controlled by a few multinational corporations, that lobbies against informing consumers about what’s in the food supply, about how animals and workers are treated. The system that shuts farmers down if they don’t kowtow to corporate practices. The system where government subsidizes hamburgers and soda pop to be cheaper than fruits and vegetables.

Voting your food dollar does have an effect. WalMart no longer sells milk with rBST growth hormone in it. They heard the vote of the consumer. You say you don’t shop at WalMart. The CEO of Stonyfield Farms (the third largest yogurt company) suggests that big sales of healthy and environmentally respectful products through WalMart squeezes out millions of dollars of sales of products that are less healthy and respectful.

Wherever you buy food, vote.

“Food, Inc.” does spend most of its time on the travesties of corporate exploitation of life and culture. But when the presentation is especially good, as it is in this film, it behooves you to spend 90 minutes with its well outlined awareness raising.

Chuck Jaffee: You have a well established career as a TV and film editor. Say something about taking on this documentary project as director as well as being the editor.

Robert McFalls: Most documentaries are “found” in post [after the filming has been done], so the editor is an important part of authorship. The director is more the driver than the editor. Editing suits my personality. With documentary editing, you get to be more of a storyteller.

CJ: How is it that you know the Dervaes family and got to make this film about them?

RM: I was looking for a project I wanted to do. I read an article about them. I liked the family aspect of their story. I contacted them.

CJ: What did you want the film to do?

RM: It seems like the economy and energy and environmental things are coming together in a way that it’s possible we’re going to have to do more of the kind of things the Dervaes family is doing, that we’ll have to get more back to our roots. Most people are just a few generations removed from being farmers.

CJ: What do you think makes the Jules Dervaes tick?

RM: Jules is a true believer, down the line. For telling a story, it’s good to have a person who’s true and driven by it. And yet, he’s vulnerable and warm. He’s a great character.

Chuck Jaffee of Nevada City likes to plug people into the spirit of independent filmmakers. Find his other articles for The Union at www.startlets.com.

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